Chess-Go-Chess-Go: Morozevich Beats Tiger In Dizzying Match

Chess-Go-Chess-Go: Morozevich Beats Tiger In Dizzying Match

| 16 | Chess Event Coverage

Many cultures have nationally popular strategy games, but rarely do top chess players "cross the streams" and take other games seriously.

That's not true of GMs Tiger Hillarp Persson and Alexander Morozevich, who long ago claimed the top title in chess, and who both now take go somewhat seriously. Today, the five-millenium-old Chinese game is almost universally dominated by Asian nations. While these GMs are not likely to change that on their own, they nonetheless played a unique exhibition match Wednesday to help cross-pollinate the love they have for both games.

Unbeknownst to Tiger, Sasha had already perfected the Nakamura stone-twirl:

Held in conjunction with the 60th European Go Congress in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Hillarp Persson and Morozevich played two games of rapid chess and two games of go (All games were roughly G/30.). They alternated between the two. Had there been a need for a tiebreaker, a coin-flip would have determined in which discipline the tiebreak game would have been fought.

Not that is hoping or expecting your attention to move on to another game, but there do seem to be some advantages to go over chess; there are also clearly some thematic differences. For example, this informative article explains that go has very few draws, and players cannot agree to them.

In addition:

  • In go, space isn't just an advantage — It is the entire object.
  • Also, the center has much less importance, as you are trying to creates borders around space. It is easier to create borders at the edge.
  • The go ratings system allows for competitive handicapped play between two players of different abilities.
  • Players often don't know who is ahead at any one moment, so even if you are losing, you won't suffer for hours with that knowledge as you would in chess!

Go is of course much more complicated in terms of the number of possible moves and positions, but there's still that "chessic" balance of long-term strategy, tactics, short-term versus long-term gains, and memorization of openings (joseki). Hillarp Person added that go computers still aren't as advanced as they are in chess (despite this recent match), but even their rising capabilities won't affect go as much as they have in chess.

Not modern art — The two players have a lot to think about despite the seemingly blank canvas of the go board. | Photos courtesy of the official web site.

On paper, Morozevich clearly had the better chances in chess. The question was whether Hillarp Persson could assert an equally strong dominance in go? 

Hillarp Persson's go level is 1 kyu, the last "amateur" rank before the "dan" ranks. Kyu ranks lower with improvement while dan ranks rise. He translates this to around 2000 Elo.

Hillarp Persson said Morozevich participated in the European Go Congress as a 6 kyu, but Morozevich won his first three games. This was Morozevich's third go tournament. The Swede estimated that Morozevich is "at least 3 kyu and possibly more."

The schedule originally called for go first, but actually chess got top billing. In any case, organizers did not leave much room in between the two different disciplines. 

This was an exhibition match, so after 1. d4, what else was Tiger to do but attempt to convert the opening into his namesake opening, Tiger's Modern, which is usually played after 1.e4? 

And why shouldn't he play his favorite opening? GM Magnus Carlsen trots out Tiger's Modern about once per year. Most recently he had success against GM Wei Yi earlier this month in Bilbao. GM Dejan Bojkov analyzed it for, but it doesn't hurt to read the thoughts of the big cat himself.

Next up, they put away their pieces and picked up their stones. Morozevich started with Black. In go, the black stones have the first play, and White receives 6.5 compensation points (Komi). The compensation points are added to White's final score. In a small surprise, Morozevich took that opening game. One of our own staffers reviewed the tape and estimated the final score to be 42 to 26 in Black's favor.

Hillarp Persson told that this is the first time he's ever played go in person with a clock. "After three moves, Alexander had to tell me to press it," he said.

I'm afraid this writer can't offer much enlightening commentary, but here's that game in its entirety. The first chess game precedes the first go game, which can be picked up one hour and 30 minutes into the video.

Hillarp Persson's take on the go game, as told to "After only a few moves, he played a stone that came as a big surprise to me, but then I didn't answer in the best way. I thought I got a good result in the fighting that took place, but after the game, the strong players showed me that I did not. Then Alexander played very well and gained control of the center of the board and pressed my groups low. I feel I reacted a bit panicky when it slowly dawned upon me that I was in trouble, and I invaded low one too many times."

In the second chess game, perhaps the two players still had a go hangover, as play focused on the wings rather than the center. How often do you see a white pawn on b4 and a black pawn on g5 on move three of a grandmaster game? Answer: a few days ago at the Najdorf Memorial!

If you'd like to see GM Vladimir Fedoseev's live commentary on the game, you can do so here.

With Morozevich now up 3-0, the match was decided with one game of go remaining. Hillarp Person got on the scoreboard by taking the final battle. If you watch until the end, you can also see a brief post-mortem with the players.

Hillarp Persson thought Morozevich played "a bit too solid" and explained that his big lead allowed him to lose some points late but still win. Here's Alexander Dinerchtein's analysis. He's a 3p (professional dan), where 1p might be equivalent to NM and 4p might be roughly equivalent to IM:

Despite winning the final go game, Hillarp Persson told that "considering the resources and time Alexander puts into go at the moment, it is a fair guess that he will soon be better than I."

"It was great fun," Hillarp Persson said. "Of course, I was hoping to win the match, but most of all, I wanted to play as much go as possible."

As if this long match day wasn't enough, both players ended it with a chess simul. One of Morozevich's opponents was Georgiev. No, not the chess grandmaster, but rather Alexander Georgiev, several-time draughts world champion. St. Petersburg was like Comic-Con for board games it seems.

Are there other top chess players who've shown competency at go? Yes! Hillarp Person explained that he wasn't even supposed to be Morozevich's opponent! GM Dmitry Kryakvin had to withdraw. Dinerchtein estimated both Morozevich and Kryakvin at 3 kyu. Hillarp Persson's countryman GM Hans Tikkanen is also "quite good."

Here's a replay of last year's interview with Hillarp Persson on ChessCenter, where he explains his passion for go. The segment begins at 11:20. 

So should you take up go to improve at chess? We will let Hillarp Persson have the last say. On his blog, he writes:

"I can really recommend chess players to do this for a number of reasons. First, if you are too tactically inclined a player, then by playing go you will be forced to think about things like 'structure' and 'plans.' Secondly, if you work as a coach, reliving the struggle of being a beginner at a difficult game (like chess or go) will definitely improve your understanding of those you are coaching. Thirdly, there are few things that let you appreciate the 'nature' of what you have learned as a chess player, and learning go will make it obvious that you know stuff that transcends the chess board."

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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